Between the Lines Podcast: Episode 1, ‘Coronavirus Coverage’

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(Logo by Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s Note: Between the Lines is the newest podcast produced by the K-State Collegian. This podcast will focus on the methodology of the reporting from the Collegian and present conversations with the reporters behind the headlines on campus. Below is a transcription of Episode 1.

Dene Dryden, host: “You’re listening to Between the Lines by the Kansas State Collegian. My name is Dene Dryden. I’m the former editor-in-chief of the Collegian and a current contributor. This podcast will give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of our most important reporting as the independent student voice of Kansas State University.

“The COVID-19 pandemic fell on Kansas State in waves. Prior to spring break, the university put out travel precautions for students and staff traveling over the break. Partway into that week, K-State made the call to extend spring break for another seven days and continue the semester online at least through the end of March. A few days later, the university moved to limited operations status, bringing classes online for the rest of the year. Dorm residents had to move. Seniors lost spring graduation along with final plays, concerts, presentations and other last moments with classmates and friends. March 20th: The first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in the Manhattan area.

“The Collegian’s reporters and editors are spread out across the country, but they continue to report on the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on K-State, its students, Manhattan and Riley County.”

Kaylie McLaughlin, editor-in-chief: “I think it’s important for people to know that we’re still there, you know. We’re still covering K-State, we’re still doing the community coverage even if we’re not on campus anymore.”

Dryden: “Kaylie McLaughlin is the Collegian’s editor-in-chief. Currently, she covers Riley County’s daily press briefings about COVID-19 and other stories while living in Shawnee.”

McLaughlin: “It’s been a kind of interesting dynamic because, following university recommendations, most of us are in our hometowns still or wherever we were for spring break, so we’re basically covering our campus from miles away, and it’s been a really interesting dynamic. One of the biggest things I think is that we haven’t been able to make a print paper, obviously. We don’t have access to our newsroom on campus, so everything that we’re doing is completely remote. We haven’t made a paper since before spring break, and we’ve been doing strictly online coverage.”

Dryden: “What particular challenges have come up since everyone is working from, you know, all different places around the country?”

McLaughlin: “Communication is way more difficult when you don’t have the luxury of regular staff meetings or regular office hours. It’s a lot harder to round up everybody, figure out what they’re working on all the time. It’s hard because you don’t get to see all the people you’re used to spending all your time with, and that’s a little bit upsetting. But I do think we’re starting to find a bit more of a routine. I mean, we’ve been doing this for more than a month now, so we have the regular publishing schedule, we have a plan. We have our newsletter that goes out on what is usually our print days — Monday, Wednesday, Friday — that have kind of helped move the process and I think helped the urgency a little bit because we’re still working towards a deadline. It might be just a little bit smaller than before.”

Dryden: “After COVID-19 hit the United States hard, almost every Collegian article is related somehow to the pandemic, Kaylie says.”

McLaughlin: “Whether that’s actually the press briefings that we cover that the county puts on or how students are adapting, stories about the financial impact that the university is going to face when all of this is said and done, we still try to do our normal coverage that we would do anyway. It’s just now that there’s not really an active campus to cover, and so much of what we would normally be covering is affected by the virus. Most of our coverage right now is very virus-heavy.”

Dryden: “On the other side of the state in Colby, Kansas, managing editor Bailey Britton is continuing her coverage of the student senate and other on-campus matters through virtual means.”

Bailey Britton, managing editor: “It’s a little harder to get in contact with sources sometimes because it’s not necessarily their first priority to be interviewed. So, usually I send out an email saying, ‘I’m writing a story about this topic, I would really like to speak to you about that, we could set up an interview over Zoom or a phone call.’ Most of the people that are, like, used to being interviewed typically go for a Zoom or a phone call, just because it’s simpler to get your ideas across in words instead of writing. And then some people that I may not know as closely or I’m reaching out to for the first time, we’ll just email back and forth for a little bit, try to get like a good [rapport] going and relationship, and go from there, seeing how comfortable they are actually speaking or just emailing.”

Dryden: “So you are continuing your coverage of the Student Governing Association, which has been a beat of yours since before the COVID-19 pandemic came in. You’re doing a mixture of COVID-19 coverage but then some regular — well, I mean as regular as possible business [that] goes on at K-State.”

Britton: “Yeah, it’s definitely changed because well, obviously, all their meetings are done over Zoom. But, the content of their meetings has basically continued as scheduled, mostly because they have to stay on such a strict schedule based on their bylaws and constitution. They did change a little bit about the swearing in of new senators and president this year, Tel Wittmer. They were sworn in one week later than anticipated, because with everything that was going on they didn’t have a normally scheduled senate meeting the week after spring break. It was — I don’t wanna say emergency meeting, it was kind of just unprecedented that they called a meeting. The content of their meetings is basically what it would be under normal circumstances as well. They’re still doing funding for different organizations, they are getting committees for the next year, they’re training new senators.

“Reporting on Manhattan when I’m not there is a little weird because I don’t necessarily have firsthand experience of what’s going on. Most of what I see is on social media or through email or what other people who are there have told me, so I may not know exactly what’s going on and I have to kind of use what little information I have. I feel like I know Manhattan well enough at this point, like, being there for almost two years for school, that I know who people are, but it can get a little weird not being there firsthand.”

Dryden: “Assistant news editor Julie Freijat resonated with this weirdness as she rides out the pandemic in Overland Park.”

Julie Freijat, assistant news editor: “And I’m currently living in a house with 10 individuals, so it’s definitely crazy but I’ve been able to get it done.”

Dryden: “So how has this experience been for you, reporting on things going on in Riley County and with the campus community, but you’re not currently in Manhattan?”

Freijat: “It’s weird because, you know, when you’re in Manhattan, you kind of have this incentive to do things and to get things done quickly because you’re there and you’re physically present. It feels like there’s a physical deadline on you. When you’re not there, when you’re not surrounded by people, you kind of lose that support system that encourages you to keep going, and so it makes it a little bit more difficult to get things done. Adding on to that, having to learn how to use all this technology in a way that benefits you and benefits the stories that you’re telling just — it adds another layer of complexity to the entire thing. But, you know, all that said, I think that this experience — as awful as it can be — is a really good learning experience for myself and other student journalists right now because we’re getting to report on something that — I mean, this doesn’t happen often, obviously. The entire country’s shut down. Getting to tell stories that relate to that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I feel like, especially as a student journalist.

“I’ve done a couple stories where I’ve gotten to talk to people who were essential workers or who were working on the frontlines and they were also students at the same time. For one of the Purple Threads stories, I got to interview Alexandria Bontrager, who was a student who is also a CNA and she’s traveling back-and-forth between Topeka and Manhattan. So, she’s working almost 40 hours a week, but she’s also going to school as a pre-med student in her last year. So, getting to talk to her — first of all, the fact that she was kind enough to sit down and talk to me was phenomenal. Second of all, being able to talk to a person who is living that kind of life right now is insane, and it really puts things in perspective for you. For me, learning about those kinds of things, it helps me get through my day-to-day life easier because I know that it’s possible with everything going on.”

Dryden: “You brought up how, you know, reporting from afar has been a bit of a challenge and you’ve had to learn some new practices, new technologies to get the job done. Can you share a little bit more of, you know, what has changed in your reporting, either your methodology with reporting or literally how you have the people and interview people and put stories together?”

Freijat: “I’ve been interviewing people and writing stories since my sophomore year of high school, so I kind of had this pattern down of how I was doing things. And I got really good at being able to interview people without having to write a bunch of questions down. That has changed, obviously because of the situation. I find myself doing a lot more research recently just because of the situation. It’s been a struggle.”

Dryden: “Like Bailey, Julie corresponds with her sources via email, video message and phone calls, and weaving together those different perspectives over different avenues of communication is a challenge.”

Freijat: “When you’re writing a story and you have somebody whose interview you did via email, and somebody whose interview you did via Zoom, and somebody who you did via phone call, you kind of have to find a way to tie all of those together because they talk differently. You know, the way somebody talks when they’re looking at you is different than the way when they can only hear you, versus the way when they can’t hear or see you. Finding a way to blend all of that together to make a really cohesive story is difficult, which, I mean, writing a story like Purple Threads is difficult in general because you’re talking to a hundred different people about the same experience, and they all word it in a different way. But you still want it to sound cohesive. That’s been a struggle to kind of figure out, OK, what’s the pattern going to be in each of these stories? How am I going to chronologically tell this, and is it going to be chronological, or is it going to be kind of this-and-that-and-this-and-that? So, it’s been a process; I’ve spent quite a few hours working that out on some of the stories that I’ve been writing.

Dryden: “What Julie emphasized at the end of our chat: Journalists are hard at work during this pandemic, and this especially includes student reporters.”

Freijat: “I think I just want people to understand that student journalism in general is difficult because we’re students and we’re also journalists. You add another layer onto all of that, and it just makes things more difficult. So, I think that I want people to realize that we’re doing the best we can with the resources that we have and the knowledge we have. Things aren’t always perfect, it is tough — it’s a tough time, and we’re all having a tough time.

“Journalists are essential workers, too; I think that’s something people don’t think about very often because, you know, when you look at a journalist, sometimes it doesn’t seem like they’re actually doing work because you can’t see the physical work being done. You just see them at a computer, talking to somebody, but it is essential work. Without journalists, 50 percent of the population wouldn’t know what’s going on right now. And I think journalism is a way to promote empathy among the general population, which I think in this day and age is extremely important. I feel like we’ve kind of lost touch with that, not only with each other but when it comes to people and journalists. I think a lot of people kind of lose touch with — ‘Yeah, this journalist isn’t [just] a journalist, they’re actually a human being.’ So, I think that journalism is important, essential, especially in the time right now where you need to know things. You need to know where you can get tests, how many people are dying, what hospitals are the hardest hit.”

Dryden: “For news editor Pete Loganbill, who also hosts the Collegian’s Kultivate podcast, he decided to stay in Manhattan after COVID-19 arrived. We talked about how his work has been affected by the pandemic.

“It feels really, really meta in a sort of way to talk about a different podcast in this podcast.”

Pete Loganbill, news editor: “Yeah, Dene, I’m supposed to be the one interviewing you.”

Dryden: “You’re on the other side of the table now! How has that process changed for producing the Kultivate podcast, because you’ve put out a few episodes ever since we went on spring break and had this whole transition to distance learning? How has that changed?”

Loganbill: “I will say probably one of, if not my favorite thing about the podcast was sitting in the studio with the person. There is a much different aspect to it when you’re actually looking at someone in the eye and having a conversation with them. Like, you can, in a sense, read them better and talk to them better. Obviously, it feels a lot more human when you’re in the room with them. I think, like, a lot of it has been, I mean, just like very strange. I’ve done a couple podcasts where I’ve recorded the audio over Zoom, and that is, like, a little bit better. I’ve done most of them over the phone, though.

“Honestly it is a lot less, I guess, fun for me because meeting the guest at the studio I always really, really enjoyed, and after a week or two of coordinating with them, finally getting to see them and shake their hand, walk up to the studio with them was always very fun for me. Getting to know some of the people at Wildcat 91.9 was also really fun> Now, I just kind of email one of them once a week and say, like, ‘Hey, here’s the audio for the podcast, just let me know when you can produce it and put it up.’ But, overall, I think it has been — I’m really grateful that we have phones and Zoom so we can — I can still do the podcast remotely, even though I don’t get the experience of sitting in the studio with somebody. I’m still able to use that platform to help inform people. I’m still able to stay connected to the community in a way through that, even though I’m doing it all from my house.”

“Probably the most disappointing story I’ve done, and probably the most impactful, too, that has to do with the effects of the virus is the one I did about how it’s affecting the Aggieville Business Association. Half of them are temporarily closed, and I talked to people from Bluestem Bistro and Auntie Mae’s Parlor about how they’re doing, just trying to get as many loans as they can, trying to take care of their employees if they can. But, they talked about how they’re really trying to take it day-by-day; they don’t know how long they’re going to be able to last in this way. I can’t imagine places, like, down in Aggieville going out of business and us going back there and saying, ‘Oh man, it didn’t last through the pandemic.’ I think a lot of that — I think we, in a sense, are the ones that need to take responsibility for keeping these places alive.”

Dryden: “Pete said he is accepting the current situation and the uncertain future ahead and trying to do good reporting despite all the disruptions. He has one more semester left at K-State after this spring.”

Loganbill: “It has obviously not been exactly what I would’ve wanted it to be. I think that being open to just thinking about, ‘Well, I don’t want to get bogged down, I don’t want to let this situation with the virus overcome me.’ I want to be able to do my best in these circumstances, and I think I’m pretty encouraged by the fact that I have been able to put out some content. Super grateful for the opportunity and the things that I’ve been able to do, even during this time.”

Dryden: “As every K-State student readies themselves for a pandemic summer and the path that lies ahead for K-State, the Collegian is continuing its coverage of the university, the city of Manhattan, and the surrounding area. Thank you for listening to Between the Lines. My name is Dene Dryden. Stay informed on campus and area news by visiting kstatecollegian.com and following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.”

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Dene Dryden
I'm Dene Dryden, a Collegian copy chief, a senior in English creative writing and CMG Board of Directors member. Formerly editor-in-chief and managing editor. You can hear my voice on Wildcat 91.9 FM and find my bylines in FFA New Horizons, Seek Research Magazine for K-State, URGE ChoiceWords and the Get Inclusive blog. In addition to my journalistic work, my poems are published or forthcoming in the Flint Hills Review, Rogue Agent and Lammergeier. My cat Robyn is the light of my life, and I take compliments in the form of coffee.